Cost of contact centre increases by almost £150K

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THE cost of the council’s new contact centre has shot up by nearly £150,000.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is currently developing a new facility at the town hall where residents and visitors will be able to get information ranging from tourist attractions’ opening hours to benefits claims.

The contact centre started running in March and it is hoped most of its services will be transferred there by the end of March next year.

Councillors set aside £70,000 towards the project, but at a cabinet meeting on Monday it was announced the scheme is set to cost £215,000 in total.

They decided to allocate the extra money by dropping original plans to develop the East Hill cafe and shelving plans for the West Marina development programme, which would have seen the knocking down of Drill Hall and the development of the bathing pool site.

The move angered opposition Tory councillors.

Councillor Matthew Beaver, the council’s Tory leader, accused the ruling Labour group of ‘abandoning’ residents in west St Leonards.

He said: “There was absolutely no need to remove this project from the the council’s capital programme and divert it to the contact centre as the funding could have been found elsewhere. We could have borrowed the money with the revenue costs of £10,000 being amply covered by the savings of £125,000 the contact centre will deliver.”

He said the council had originally put aside £133,000 to buy and demolish Drill Hall so that when finance allowed the redevelopment of the bathing pool site and the surrounding area could go ahead.

Council leader Jeremy Birch said the scheme no longer offered value for money.

Cllr Jay Kramer said: “It is exciting and challenging for the council to develop a contact centre. This is a fantastic opportunity to bring all of our services in one place.”

She said there had been a ‘fantastic improvement’ in the telephone service in terms of people being able to get through to someone quickly.

Between March and mid-August the contact centre handled 18,574 calls, with 72 per cent answered within 20 seconds, Kevin Boorman, the authority’s head of communications and marketing, said.

Cllr Kramer said the timetable to have the majority of the council’s services transferred to the new contact centre by March next year was ‘very challenging’.

She added: “There has been an increase in the original estimate in the amount of money that this is going to cost. But the original estimate was based on the contact centre being based at Aquila House in Breeds Place.

“However the public said they wanted it to be retained at the Hastings Information Centre in the town hall.”